A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: soafrica

A Journey through Africa - Some pictures

It's the journey, not the destination!

overcast 12 °C

It has been more than two weeks since I have been back in Canada and yet, my body is restless and my brain has not adapted to my daily routine.

What am I suppose to do with easy access to clean water, no fear of diaerea or snakes, food at every corner, going to the bathroom in the middle of the night looking at my walls instead of the stars, sleeping in a bed that I don't have to fold every morning, falling asleep with the noise of cars instead of hyenas singing around the camps, feeling exhausted after a gentle bike ride in the Gatineau Park, and many many more "strange" things/feelings?

But, rest assure, there is always hope and I shall soon become "normal" again (i.e., a reasonably well adapted person - if this is ever possible). For the moment, I am holding to my memories of a trip that amazed me behond any description.

I have put together this slideshow as a way of thanking all of you who helped and supported me before, during and still after this journey.

For those who donated to the charity cause, you will see pictures of a bike donation in Zambia - this is just one example; there were bike donations in most of the 10 countries we crossed! The bikes you all helped to "come to life" went to community groups, health workers, etc. A bike is a hope and life in Africa; allowing health workers to reach places too far to walk, to see more patients, serve as ambulances, enable kids to go to school (which would have been otherwise too far), carry the essentials (water, wood to cook, etc), and so much more. Thank YOU! Thank You! Thank You!

Personally, I will never look at a bike the same way after this trip!

Note 1 : the slide show is about 25 minutes. It is hard to compress 4 months of discoveries into a slideshow! The first two pictures are from the Tour d'Afrique website, but the rest are mine. THE SLIDE SHOW IS NOT FINISHED as I had technical problems with my camera in Namibia and South Africa - I should have more pictures to add for these countries in a week or so.

Note 2: I have not yet found the way to import the slideshow in the blog - so I am hope that this link work!

http://picasaweb.google.com/ssimard15/TourDAfrique#slideshow/5342855954229574978

THE JOURNEY NEVER ENDS!

Posted by soafrica 18:42 Archived in Canada Tagged photography Comments (0)

Cape Town!

The end of things or the continuation of an endless journey?

sunny

Wow....

Already two days since we have reached the “end point” and yet I feel like I am in a “no man land”waiting to decide where I will go next. I truly feel like I have not yet arrived and that I may in fact never reach an "end point".

I have memories of children along the roads looking at us with so much eagerness and curiosity, women dressed with sarongs of all colors so often smiling with complicity and proud, men carrying water, wood, food and passengers on the back of old bikes, sand, mountains, the rich red soils of Namibia, tropical vegetation, eucalyptus trees, climbs that felt as if one would reach the sky, the stillness of the heat in the Sundan, Ethiopia and Kenya, the cold mornings of Bostwana and Namibia, the bush camps I have loved so so much, elephants crossing the roads just in front of us, the stars to the infinite, sunsets over Lake Malawi, sunrise in the sand dunes of Namibia, the generosity of people along the roads, my feelings of inadequacy for not being able to do something (if only a little) to make life sweater for these thousands of children, “the frustration" and surprises that come with different cultures, the gender relations which are so different from what I know, the excitement of loosing oneself in local markets so full of colors, my bum that hurts at the end of long days, my legs that finally learned to be strong on these long journeys, the wind that so often gave me the feeling of freedom, the sun burning my face as I stopped for lunch, my eyes that could never stopped looking around, crazy dreams as I slept in my tent, the rain "on and in" my tent..., the pleasure that came with a shower after a few days of bush camps, having the stars as background while going to the bathroom at night, living in a community of 60 so special and divers characters for 120 days. My memories are endless and my feelings so hard to describe.

I am still under the shock: So full of joy that I succeeded in crossing the path of these 10 countries, discovered and learned so many many things. And yet, I am sad that it is coming to an end and also confused (or scared...) at what will be my next steps. This journey has left many imprints on me and I truly hope that I will be able to growth from what I have learned and give back to others..

I have not written since Zambia as if I could not get myself to acknowledge (in writing) that I was slowly leaving “dark Africa ” towards a more “modern” Africa. I took notes and will soon post snapshots of feelings and impressions from Zambia, Bostwana, Namibia and South Africa.

But for the moment, I am still in search as if a part of myself was left behind on my bike somewhere between Tanzania and Zambia.

Posted by soafrica 06:07 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

THE END OF KENYA - TANZANIA AND THE BEGINING OF MALAWI

DOES IT REALLY RAIN IN AFRICA?

rain

We are now in Lilongwe, Malawi and much has happened since I last wrote on this blog.

[*]A three day magicaL Safari

[*]The end country #4 (Kenya) and #5 (Tanzania) – It is very special to look at a map thinking that we have cycled all that way! But it is also very amazing how one can loose all sens of the time - I am unable to tell you date or day of the week!.

[*]Our entry in Malawi with its crown jewel - Lake Malawi!

[*] Experiencing rainy season and humidity with a leaking tent - ouch!

TANZANIA

This is the land of friendly people, more dirt roads (ouch) and a magical safari!

The last time I wrote I was in Nairobi. We then had two/three days of riding in Kenya before we crossed to Tanzania through the town of Namanga. The border crossing was again uneventful and quite easy but my entry into Tanzania was the begining of a new love affair with … « Chai ».

I now know that one must fight hot weather with hot drinks (instead of these cold sodas....) and discovered the great taste of chai and chapatis as a second breakfast and also a second lunch... I am still eating like crazy!!!. Stopping for chai and chapatis is a wonderful way of meeting local people as women make chai and chapatis in little "cabanes"/ huts in the middle of a village. Chai is a spiced tea –with a blend of ginger, cardamon, cinamon, depending of inspiration of the moment PLUS a lot of sugar! A chapatis is a round flat bread cooked on the grill (origin in India) and I had some sugar to it when available (mium mium mium!). In fact, chai and chapatis are a staple in Kenya but my love affair started only in Tanzania. I believe that there is a say to the effect that short love affairs are the best – and mine lasted only the 10 days of Tanzania but it was quite intense ;).

The Tanzanian people were also an highlight of this country. Very friendly people in pair with the people from the Sudan. Actually with some retrospect, I would say that the kids and adults in Kenya were a little more aggressive towards muzungu (i.e., white person in Swahili) while people in Tanzania seemed much more relaxed and in some places one could look around without even being talked to or asked to buy something. More south in Tanzania, people and mostly the kids are again a little more aggresive when they see us - but it is all fine, just a different approach. The realities here in Africa are so so different from what we (or at least I) know!

We got to Arusha (capital of Tanzania) and left the next day for a two nights/3 days safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti Park.

The Crater is 20km wide and one of the largest calderas in the world (as per the Lonely Planet!!!). This is truly a very magical place both for the density of animals once can see all living together in a very peaceful manner and for the scenaries. The Serengeti Park is known for the impressive migration of wildebeests. We toured the crater and the Serengeti Park in an open roof top jeep (7 cyclist happy to be sitting in a jeep instead of on a bike seat!). I will let you imagine my head emerging from the open roof of that jeep looking with my eyes wide. Seriouly, I spent these three days in a state of pure amazement. I saw lions coupling just in front of our jeep (during the mating season , they can "get busy" up to 35 times per day. Although short (about 1 minute with not much foreplays involved ..., it seemed to be quite intense and two of them seemed really tired afterwards - Just my assumption!). We also saw a mama chetaw with her cubs killing an antilop a few feet from us, hyppos sunking in the water just like in a Nature channel program, tones of zebras, families of elephants (we actually saw little babies from very very close!!!), hienas, big buffalos, very elegant girafes (Nicolas - these are the most beautiful on earth !), monkeys, neat looking birds, a huge number of wilderbeest - although it was not quite yet the migration - and so many many other animals.... (Anik, Emmanuelle, Nicolas and Mom: you would have loved it!)!

And then we were back on our bike for a 5 days riding on dirt roads out of Arsuha in direction of the Malawi border through Dodoma, Iringa and Mbeya (the later being the border town where we crossed into Malawi). Through these 5 days, we crossed many women of different tribes/origins carrying heavy loads on their heads and back. It really seems like Africa is a continent of working women and very numerous unoccupied men (and that is me being diplomatic :)). These women are wrapped in beautiful sarongs of all colors. The sarongs in Tanzania and Malawi are used for so many purposes including serving as a skirt/dress, head scarf to protect against the sun, to carry children, to wrap the peas and carry them on the top of your head, etc. There must be more than 101 uses for the sarongs and our group of Muzungus has also adopted the sarong to quickly get off of these bike shorts and heel our soar bums.. BUT I must say that not all the huys looks good in a sarong with no shirt on.... so the Muzungu from the Tour d'Afrique must not always be a pretty vision for the locals :).

These riding days were also quite hilly. In the surrounding of Iringa and Mbeya, we had reached high plateaux – i.e., we often climbed more than 1000 meters per day - at one point we were as high as 1800 meters - and the evening camps were quite cold and very wet (yes, it was raining!!) - It felt like camping in Western Canada in June... Actually there were connifers in between what was still quite tropical vegetation - a funny thing to see.

The end of Tanzania and our entry into Malawi marked the begining of riding pavement – some of the cyclist actually kissed the pavement. From my side, I was a little sad to leave the dirt roads. I have come to really like these rides – challenging and fun. We have maybe about 10 days of dirt roads left in the trip (sniff, sniff). The entry in Malawi is also the begining of a much stronger cycling culture - men and women cycle everywhere. Not just in town but also in between diffferet town. In Ethiopia and Kenya - - people were cycling but mostly men and mostly in town. Here in Malawi and also in the south of Tanzania - bike is a must to go around. It is amazing to see how much the Malawian and Tanzanian people will carry on these bikes - we have seen one bike with a small cow on the back! very often bigs and chicken, piles of woods, piles of "charcoal", huge amount of water, and also "taxi bike" - with one person riding a nice long back leather seat (instead of the back bike rack)!

WHEATHER
Malawi is also offcially my introduction to the rainy season in Africa. Malawi can go as much as 8 months without rain and they do some awarness work on conserving water - but in the last few days we have had a lot of rain! It is usually short rain periods - but yesterday in our rest day it rained almost alll night and a big part of the day. The last few days in Tanzania also presented some challenges for staying dry. There were a lot of humidity in the air when we woke up and the tents were as wet as if it had rained! I have discovered that my tent is leaking so that is a bit of a challenge for me :0 - yep Dennis I don't know why but I seem to be cursed with leaking tents! I will certainly survived but I am starting to shrink from being wet and humid as well as from loosing weight ;)

We are being told that there has been some flood in Bostwana and Namibia in the last few days - hopefully it will calm down before we get there...

MALAWI – HILLS, HILLS AND A ITS LAKE

The first 7 days in Malawi have been very very hilly – One of the most amazing rides on this trip was between Mbeya and Chitimba beach. Pure tropical forest as scenaries with such an abundance of fruit trees of all sorts, tea fields, and palms trees. On that day, we rode through a major storm descending into a valley and we could hardly see anything for a few kilometres so much the rain was strong and the fog was densed but yet the sky cleared and we then saw this great vegetation and the various shades of green. Wow!

I am not about to forget that day descending and climbing in heaven all at the same time ;)

Then we got the see Lake Malawi, described in the Lonely Planet as a magnificent shrade of crystal; water streching some 500 km along Malawi eastern border- well it is amazingly blue for sure! Our first beach camp since Egypt! I set my tent in the sun, I swimmed in the Lake (despite advises from travel doctors not to do it because of risk of catching some « bebites » - well this whole trip is about risk of cachibng something so one more or less ;). [Stephan, please don't read that part to Maman...]. The waves were high and the water almost as warm as body temperature – a real threat – even if forbiden ;). On thart rest day at the beach, I teamed up with two other girls with whom I often ride to cook a breakfast for the whole ghroup – french toasts, caramelized nuts, pear compote, fruit salad and chai – A very nice moment cooking for 60 hungry cyclists. Many of them helped us with cutting fruits and cooking the french toasts.

Malawi is ranked in the first 10 poorest countries and yet it is so full of contrasts (again). The average annual income is $USA 1000 and they are some data to the effect that more than 40-50% of the population would be affected by HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, this is a peaceful country, the roads are well paved, there seems to be a lot of foreign investment (the government wants to attract investment to develop agriculture, trade in cut flowers, auto parts, tires, etc), but also heavy international aid from European union in relation to agriculture, big adds along the roads for soaps, luxury products, loans, etc. And still, many families survive on one meal per day (if any) which will be made mostly from Qasaga (I am not sure of the spelling) like a white root (similar to potatoes but much less tasty). Food security in rural Malawi seems really an isssue in rural Malawi (28% of the population is said to leave in extreme state of poverty as per UNDP reports) and I am ashame when I think that I keep eating and eating all day when in fact many of the children I see on the road during the day may not even have had a meal! Not easy to deal with my conscience these days...

We are leaving Malawi tomorrow (we are not going south of Malawi...) to enter Zambia.. Another country and much more discoveries to come.

Missing you but liking every moments of this trip (well almost ;)).

Sonia (and Orimou)

Posted by soafrica 03:40 Archived in Malawi Comments (2)

We crossed the Equator!

Onward to the land of the big five (animals)

BEAUTIFUL KENYA

We have crossed the equator two days ago! What a neat feeling to think tht we have come so far on this trip!~!!!

We just arrived to Nairobi yesterday night for a day of rest. But in fact it seems we never quite really rest :)
What does a rest day look like in the Tour d'Afrique?

First I usually arrived late in the afternoon and for many places this means hoping (i.e., crossing) the fingers that there will still be some water left...

Bike:

One must change tires (if need be for next riding segment – i.e., putting those big fat tires for dirt roads or your fast slick tires if it is pavement...);

Then clean the chain and the rest of the bike;

And most importantly work with the mechano if you have any major issues that you can't deal with by yourself – by the way, we have a great guy as mechano who is an angel and knows his stuff!!! Thanks Marc!

So far I had some issues with my breaks and speeds adjustment – but I would imagine that it is quite normal considering that we have done a little more than 5000km;

I usually try to deal with bike cleaning and maintaining on the afternoon of arrival to get that out of the way :) - I must say that I am still quite bad at it!

Laundry:

Yek yerk yerk – but I have learned that it is better to do your own laundry by hand if one wants to be sure to recover all his/her clothes and be ready for the day we are leaving!!!!

It takes one wash and two rinces to get cycling shorts and jersey "reasonably" cleaned ;) - Forget about ever getting your white stuff looking white again ;)

Imagine at least 25 cyclist all attempting to do their laundry by hands – all “fighting for a tub and water (when water is limited... and that has been the case in many places in Ethiopia...) Also better to do it in the afternoon of arrival or at 0600 am next morning if you want to be sure that your laundry dry in time!!! (and yes most of us still wake up around 0600 am on rest day...)

|Self maintenance

You can't imagine the pleasure of taking a shower after 4-5days of bush camps where water is limited and we only wash with baby wipes...

In Nairobi – where we are right now – very nice campground with great showers, i.e., more than one shower for 50 cyclists with enough pressure until everyone has finished their showers, hot water and hooks on the doors – see how definition of luxury changes

I can assure you that girly maintenance stuff is quite limited – and I have hairy legs very often – can't be bother and often too tired to do anything …

And lately I have been fixing flats during the days and at nights: My front tire got some small metal pieces in several places and it resulted in having “many holes” in many tubes throughout the days and at nights – which actually left very little time/energy for showers

Look around for internet, comfort food, etc

Yep, one can easily spend 2 hours looking for internet shop “in towns” during rest days, making the lines because 20 other cyclist found it before you and there is only 3 internet stations in town!

Internet connection has been very slow as we crossed Ethiopia and North of Kenya!!!

And then the comfort food... For me : In the Sudan it was yohourt (mium I miss it so much, i.e., no yogourth at all in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, it was the fresh juice (huge glasses of mango, avocado and papaya mixed fresh juice made in front of you – for about $1-2 USA!!! - Yep avacado mixed with mango and papaya is delecious – just wait when I come back I will most certainly attempt to do these juices at home, and in North of Kenya it was mostly "bush camps" (i.e., no real facilties anywhere for teh begining - but we have now reached the chocolate about 2 days ago - I am now eating Mars bars and let me tell you that they taste bloody good!

By the way, I also drink sprite and fanta orange on the coke stops during long hot days – yep! This is often the only cold drinks available. You would not recognise me ;)

Despite all of the above I have still managed to loose weight: my hips, breast and part of my bum are gone! I am tiny but don't worry I think I have it under control now – I eat a lot for the meals at night, I have also started to eat 4 power bars per day (TDA gives us those rather weird power bars and I use not to like it – well, now I actually crave for them during these long hard days in Northern Kenya) Thus, weight management is”now” under control – I should not be too scaring when I come back ;)

Tourism??”

Yes, I do try to do some tourism visits during rest days and take a lot of pictures but I can tell you that a "rest day" goes really really fast. I expect to do more tourism in the second part of the trip as “commodities” get easier to find and thus leaving more time for looking around.

|For those interested – the roads we took lately:

Southern Etiopia through Yabello and Moyale – Yabello reserve was beautiful to ride through as the vegetation was high green and desertic all together at different times...

Then Northern Kenya – mostly bush camps (which I truly loved – will described thse bush camps in another posting) going through semi desertic and hard journeys (the "roads to hell" from in the previous posting)

BUT we did got to the rural / very agricultural areas of middle Kenya as we passed through Isiolo and Nanyaki (beautiful little villages – where I got a chance to sit and look at the locals going on with their days).

Riding into Nairobi was a total different experience:
The types of crops: mango, bananas, pineapple (there was a Delmonte pineapple farm – yep the big corporations are here such as Nestle – we also saw corn, tomatoes, avocado and a lot of other fruits and vegetables. I have started to stop on the side of the roads to buy fruits as I ride during the day – Mium.

The language in Kenya is Swaili – which we will keep as we crossed other countries – a very musical language which I like!

Today we road 115 km to get to Nairobi. This was very very strange – I felt like I was no more in Africa – A lot of abundance with respect to crops and highways … (i.e.,k a two lanes roads) as well as billboards and people dressed in very western fashion. Nice but I am sure that I will soon want to be back in bush camps.

The main danger right now are the cars - The Kenyan are driving like maniac - I have truly never seen taht before - they are pushing the clycists when over taking a "slow cars) - i.e., slow cars are driving 120 km so imagne fast cars! The roads are paved (roughly) but no shoulder so two cars passing each others and the cylcist is in the ditch - that is not counting the very possibility of a third car passing you in the ditch - it is hell and dangerous (Stephan - don't read that part to mom!!!). Also, on the funny side, they drive on the left so I have to remember to stay on the right side of the road!!!

What is next?

Two more days to ride from Nairobi to Arsusha (Tanzania) and then I will be doing a 3 day safari – more to come soon on that.

That's it for now. Madeleine un gros merci pour les nouvelles. Claude c'est tres gentils les mots d'encouragement! Pascal: Je t'ai deja dit que j'avais un "secret" crush on you" - donc la reference a la creme glacee n'etait nullement une indication de l'ardeur de mon affection pour toi ;). Un gros gros merci a Bill - je vais chercher la boite a DHL maintenant - je suis aussi excitee que pour Noel.

Vous me manquer tous beaucoup mais par contre je prefere mon climat au votre ;)

Sonia

So

Posted by soafrica 00:16 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Northern Kenya - the road to Hell...

sunny

I have survived the "Meltdown to Madness" segment!@!@@@!@

This is how the Tour d'Afrique calls the segment between Addis Abba and Nairobie - and it is crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

The worse roads of all the Tour D'Afrique are actually in the first 5 days North of Kenya and it can only be described as "roads to hell" - we went through desert scenery and some low vegetation with in the background mountains that are "paving" the way to Mount Kenya and beautiful sunsets: How to described these roads to hell? Dirt, pits sands, corragulated roads (i.e. major rocks sticking out leading to constant constant bad shaking on the bike with hands and arms becoming numbs), loose lava gravel rock which creates "war ravines" and make you fall when you try to change course seeking a "smotheer path (to find out that it is just an illusion and that this path is as worse as the previous one) some headwinds, all that together leading me to say a few bad words in French and English ;) 8 hours riding per days with nowhere to escape and over 40 celsius as of 0900 am - Crazy Crazy Crazy - I rode my bike with my eyes glue to the roads, stopped to drink and look a little around me and arrived to camp at night with the feeling of a major accomplishment - certainly my biggest challenge ever in my life.

BIG BIG THANK YOU TO THE PHAT MOUSE GUYS - The cycling shop in Ottawa AND to the company "Salsa" - the maker of my bike (the Fargo) - this is an AMAZING bike - very strong and perfect for this tour. It is a steel frame (which I highly recommend) and even without front suspension (and me having no mountain bike experience or off roads cycling)- I have managed as well as many of the mountain bikes guys in the tour. Anyone considering Tour d'Afrique should have a look at the description of that segment!

Today we are in Nanyuski - and we rode on pavement most of the day with a view on Mountain Kenya - fabulous - Mount Kenya is about 5199 meters high - I am being told that climbing is very technical - more than the Kilimanjaro - It certainly looks like a beautiful mountain. We will be arriving in Nairobi in 2 days and will have one rest day. Then we move on towards Arusha where I will be doing a 3 days safari - more details on that one in a few days but I certainly look forward to some vacation (from my bike vacation) :)

In term of wildlife, those who rode the truck through the "roads to hell" saw some ostriches and dick dicks, but we have not yet seen big animals aside from donkeys and camels. At night in bush camps, we can hear hyenas around us (pretty scary but I tried no to go to the bathroom during the nights. I have now pretty much mastered this act of will ;). Nicolas: Je te dis des que je vois une giraffe.

During the days in North of Kenya, we have come across Masai people and Zamuuru tribes - the latter are beautiful, man and woman dressed in very vivid colors (pink, yellow, blue, etc) with the women wearing very colorful jewelries made out of bids of all colors - long necks with necklaces, ears perced with the lobe being extended by wooden hearings! The Masai healers are also beautiful.

The main new staple with regard to food in Kenya so far is Chapati - some kind of bread - pancake that is really good - I like it a lot. We will be crossing the Equator tomorrow. Amazing to think that we are now close to half of our trip! We are now getting closer to the "South Africa economy" i.e., it will soon be easier to find cold drinks, chocolate and ice cream (so are we told - we already had ice cream today!!!) but from my side I will be missing the bush camps although we are supposed to still have some and Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa so still many challenge ahead of us.

By the way, internet connection in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya have been really slow and thus the reason for my silence on the blog. Just a few words on Southern Ethiopia - It became gradually hotter but it was still paved roads with the main challenge remaining the kids with their rocks

I am still amazed that I managed to exit Ethiopia without major "rock accidents" - The group was pretty relieved to leave Ethiopia and the "dangerous kids" (rather funny to that 6 years old kids can scare cyclists :). I still keep a very good memory of Ethipia - beautiful landscape, amazing music (I discovered Teddy Afro- a national singer now in jail because of his statements...) and still in the overall kind people.

The group is doing better - In the Southern Ethiopia we had a lot of cyclists really sick (diarrhea, fever. cold) and it was getting around very fast. 50 cyclist sharing food, camping ground, toilets and proximity - a dream field for these germs! From my side, I had diarrhea for almost 10 days and had no choice but to take antibiotic (with one day of vomiting, being very weak and no food) - but thanks god, I am over that one and I feel now stronger - cross my fingers!

That's it for now. Life is amazing -- Sunsets and all!

Next blog - I will talk more about group life, camping and food !!!

Take good care of you all!

Posted by soafrica 02:47 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

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